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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

A winter's view from my office window.

Boston glows at sunset

It's a photo diversion here at too-busy-to-write Philocrites! This is the view from my office window (if I poke my head out and look south) last Tuesday afternoon. And here's my view straight on, two days later.

Posted by Philocrites, January 30, 2007, at 09:24 PM | 4 comments

Monday, January 29, 2007

Vote in the third annual UU Blog Awards.

Voting began early this morning in the third annual Unitarian Universalist Blog Awards. I'd like to thank readers who nominated this blog in three categories: Best religious writing or theological commentary (best of class), Best UU-themed blog, and Best writing. You can cast your vote until midnight on Friday, February 2.

Posted by Philocrites, January 29, 2007, at 07:50 AM | 3 comments

This week at Finding a talisman.

Kimberly French, a UU World contributing editor, writes about discovering that a necklace her mother had given her had turned into something truly unexpected: a talisman. In the news, Kimberly reports on the six murders that have devastated families served by the Boston UU Urban Ministry in the past year. And in her weekly roundup, Sonja Cohen tracks Unitarian Universalists in the media.

Posted by Philocrites, January 29, 2007, at 07:46 AM | 0 comments

Saturday, January 27, 2007

The president is not my commander in chief.

In a Times op-ed today, historian Garry Wills shows how American presidents have militarized their office, leading Americans to forget that "the president is not our commander in chief":

The Constitution is clear on this: "The president shall be commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the militia of the several states, when called into the actual service of the United States."

When Abraham Lincoln took actions based on military considerations, he gave himself the proper title, "commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States." That title is rarely — more like never — heard today. It is just "commander in chief," or even "commander in chief of the United States." This reflects the increasing militarization of our politics. The citizenry at large is now thought of as under military discipline. . . .

We used to take pride in civilian leadership of the military under the Constitution, a principle that George Washington embraced when he avoided military symbols at Mount Vernon. We are not led — or were not in the past — by caudillos.

("At ease, Mr President" [op-ed], Garry Wills, New York Times 1.27.07, reg req'd)

Posted by Philocrites, January 27, 2007, at 12:13 PM | 2 comments

Thursday, January 25, 2007

'Every Bible is the flawed work of human hands.'

Anthony Grafton reviews "In the Beginning," an exhibition of ancient Bibles at the Smithsonian that ended a few weeks ago, and its companion book, In the Beginning: Bibles Before the Year 1000, for the New Republic. His essay offers a good summary of what the history of the Bible reveals:

The Bible, in some general sense, may well be the Word of God. That is not a scholarly question. But the materials collected in this show and in its book make clear, beyond any possibility of mistake or confusion, that no single Bible in any language represents that Word without error or impurity. Every Bible we have — in Armenian or Latin, Greek or Hebrew — is the flawed work of human hands. Every one of them derives from beautiful but imperfect handwritten books like those displayed here, many of which, perhaps most, omit verses and texts that a modern American would normally expect to find. Only by reading each version — sometimes, each of the many versions of a version — in context can we see what they meant to their creators. . . .

The only reason to believe that a particular Christian (or Hebrew) Bible represents the Truth is that it supports beliefs drawn from other sources of conviction. To say this is not to attack religion or to say anything against the power and the glory of the Bible. On the contrary, it is to appreciate more fully how much the Bible meant to the men and women — Jewish and Christian, Eastern and Western — who first wrote its books, and their successors through the centuries, who read them and reproduced them with a care and an artistry that are foreign to our own civilization.

(Anthony Grafton, "Getting the Word out," New Republic 1.22.07, reg req'd)

Related: Back in 2002, I wrote a post on why Unitarian Universalists ought to take the Bible more seriously. See also John Buehrens's essay, "Why bother with the Bible?" (UU World, July/August 2003).

Posted by Philocrites, January 25, 2007, at 08:01 AM | 2 comments

Monday, January 22, 2007

Weeklong radio series on UU Gulf Coast relief.

Boston news radio WBZ 1030 is running a series of reports this week from reporter Anthony Silva, who spent the week between Christmas and New Year's working with volunteers in Unitarian Universalist-sponsored relief work on the Gulf Coast. I haven't had time to listen to his dispatches yet, but you can find pictures, summaries of his reports, and audio files at WBZ's "Battling Back in the Bayou" page. I learned about Silva's work from UUA Moderator Gini Courter, who described her own volunteer work in New Orleans that week during her report to the UUA Board of Trustees this past Sunday.

Ongoing volunteer efforts are being coordinated in New Orleans by the Unitarian Universalist Hurricane Relief and Social Justice Project, headquartered at the UU Church of Baton Rouge with funding from the UUA-UUSC Gulf Coast Relief Fund. Similar volunteer opportunities are also available in hurricane-damaged areas of Mississippi.

Posted by Philocrites, January 22, 2007, at 09:42 PM | 0 comments

This week at New religious humanism.

William R. Murry proclaims the emergence of a new religious humanism among Unitarian Universalists, one that "offers depth, meaning, and purpose without sacrificing intellectual honesty or the spiritual dimension." Murry, former president of Meadville Lombard Theological School, is the author of a new book, Reason and Reverence: Religious Humanism for the Twenty-first Century.

In the news, Don Skinner writes that many Unitarian Universalists protested President Bush's announcement of a troop "surge" in Iraq. UUA President William Sinkford, in a public letter to Bush, said the announcement "stunningly disregards the wishes of the American people, the advice of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group."

And Sonja Cohen offers her weekly roundup of Unitarian Universalists in the media at's news blog.

Posted by Philocrites, January 22, 2007, at 07:29 AM | 2 comments

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Nine moments of academic Schadenfreude.

We interrupt this inadvertent hiatus to bring you a movie! Mrs Philocrites took great delight in showing me nine short films parodying academic job interviews for freshly minted literature PhDs at the Modern Language Association's annual convention. If your path has led you through the valley of the shadow of Humanities anytime in the last couple of decades, these clips will probably make you laugh, too — especially if you are, as one of Mrs Philocrites' classmates puts it, "pomo-phobic."

P.S. I may reemerge from being swamped with work soon. Or maybe not!

Posted by Philocrites, January 20, 2007, at 09:47 PM | 2 comments

Monday, January 15, 2007

Nominations open for third annual UU blog awards.

UUpdates opens nominations for the third annual Unitarian Universalist Blog Awards. Need help finding worthy candidates? Try the categorized list at UUpdates or my guide to UU blogs. Nominations are open through January 19 only, so spend some time this week reviewing your favorites.

In the event that you'd like to nominate this site for an award, here are my favorite posts for the year. (I also blogged the UUA General Assembly for in June.) Do note that although I wax theological here from time to time, got myself an M.Div., and do a bit of preaching on the side, I am not a minister and qualify for the "best lay blog," not for the seminarian or minister blog categories.

Update 1.16.07: Other favorites lists for 2006 from Arbitrary Marks, The Chalice Blog, Jess's Journal, PeaceBang, and The Socinian.

Update 1.17.07: More from CUUMBAYA, Earthbound Spirit, Elizabeth's Little Blog, and iMinister.

Update 1.19.07: Humility from Finding My UU Soul and Surviving the Workday, along with a vow of non-participation from Yet Another Unitarian Universalist Blog.

Posted by Philocrites, January 15, 2007, at 11:48 AM | 4 comments

This week at Environmentalist churches.

Don Skinner writes about congregational initiatives to put environmental stewardship at the heart of UU church life.

In the news, Don Skinner reports that the UUA-UUSC Gulf Coast Relief Fund has distributed another $132,000 to organizations in Louisiana and Mississippi. He also reports that Starr King School for the Ministry has announced a "seminary for the laity" — online leadership training courses for volunteer and paid congregational leaders. And Sonja Cohen tracks Unitarian Universalists in the media for UU World's news blog.

From the archives for this Martin Luther King Jr Day: Rosemary Bray McNatt wonders what might have happened if King, a theological liberal, had cast his lot with the Unitarians during his Boston years. Thomas Mikelson reflects on the magnitude and ethical challenge of King's vision of God. And I describe the Unitarian Universalist Association's role in the 1965 Selma voting right campaign, where two UUs gave their lives; a recording [RealAudio] of King's eulogy for the Rev. James Reeb [pdf] surfaced for the first time in late 2000.

Posted by Philocrites, January 15, 2007, at 10:17 AM | 0 comments

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Why I will join the antiwar protesters.

Antiwar rally near Park Street Station, Boston, January 11, 2007Here's the really short version: Even after listening to President Bush's "humble" call for 21,000 more troops in Iraq tonight, I can't identify any reasons to believe he deserves our trust or has yet identified a realistic strategic goal. "Success," he very improbably says, is a stable and democratic, non-sectarian Iraq protecting human rights, policing its own borders, and inspiring nations throughout the Middle East to forswear terrorism, violence, and Islamic extremism. What a beautiful dream. But I can't fathom how a temporary troop surge can make it possible.

More importantly, though, Bush's policies for the past four years have dug us and the Iraqi people into a dismal hole. I grant, to my horror, that Iraq faces terrible violence — perhaps no matter what we do — and that the war we launched has unleashed frightening instability in the region. But endorsing Bush's plan cannot keep that violence at bay anymore.

I do fear for what comes next. But Bush doesn't have a compelling plan. I'd love to endorse a better one, but I think my role as a citizen in this case is not to come up with a better foreign policy on my own; it's to put pressure on my government to come up with a worthy goal and a plan that stands a reasonable chance of achieving it.

So, on Thursday evening, I'll be in Boston Common with other protesters to register my dissent. You can also find vigils and protests in your area.

Update 1.26.07: The January 27 antiwar protests across the country will include these events in the Boston area. Dress warmly, ignore some of the crazy things the speakers will say, and be sure to let your congressional representatives and senators know how you feel about the way the Bush administration has driven us into the ditch.

Posted by Philocrites, January 10, 2007, at 10:06 PM | 17 comments

Educating kings for the twenty-first century.

A peculiar ad appeared on page A5 in today's Boston Globe:

Cushing Academy extends
congratulations and warmest wishes
to Cushing 1999 alumnus

Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck

on his ascent to the
throne of Bhutan

Under the school's insignia is the slogan, "Forging Leaders for the 21st Century." Bhutan, a small Himalayan Buddhist country tucked between India and China, is apparently an absolute monarchy, although the new king's father has initiated moves toward constitutional government with a parliament by 2008. (The country lifted its ban on television in 1999.) Granting the distinctive challenges of being the young monarch of a small country, and wishing for his success at introducing democracy, I can't help but wonder how many of the Boston area's striver parents think of kings as modeling "leadership in the 21st century." But parents: If you do have a young prince in need of a good education, check out Cushing.

Posted by Philocrites, January 10, 2007, at 07:48 AM | 4 comments

Monday, January 8, 2007

What a lovely spring we're having in Boston.

Tree blossoms in JanuaryOn Saturday, after Mrs Philocrites completed the fourth and final day of her Episcopal General Ordination Exams, we decided there's simply nothing better than springtime in Cambridge in January. Walking toward Harvard Square, we passed trees in bloom near the high school. What's more, bees were buzzing everywhere — but I couldn't capture an unblurry picture of them.

With the temperature reaching almost 70 degrees, we carried our lightest jackets over our arms. The street performers had emerged from hibernation in the Square; people were playing chess and drinking iced tea (!) outdoors at Au Bon Pain; undergrads were playing football and throwing frisbees along the banks of the Charles River as joggers in sports bras ran by. One guy was playing his guitar on Weeks Bridge like it was May, which is exactly what if felt like.

Hmm: Warmest December in Boston's history. Anyone else struck by unusual weather in their neck of the woods?

Posted by Philocrites, January 8, 2007, at 09:47 PM | 9 comments

Time for the third annual UU Blog Awards?

UUpdater — the fine fellow who hosts UUpdates, the most comprehensive aggregator of Unitarian Universalist blogs and other RSS-equipped sites — is looking for feedback on the UU Blog Awards process. An improved process could make a third annual round of mutual backslapping especially fun, so please head on over and give UUpdater some encouragement.

(Personally, as the originator of the clumsy category titles we've used for the last two years, I'd certainly love to see a better set of category names. But I have the available brainspace of a thumbtack right now and can't think of any.)

Posted by Philocrites, January 8, 2007, at 05:27 PM | 1 comments

This week at Persistent Universalists.

Warren Ross takes a look back at the growth spurt of Unitarian churches in the Washington, D.C., area half a century ago. In little more than a decade, Washington Unitarians — inspired by A. Powell Davies, the minister of All Souls Church — started eight new churches. (Davies died in 1957, but his widow Muriel Davies was ordained last month as minister emerita of River Road Unitarian Church at the age of 100!)

In the news, Don Skinner reports on the centennial celebration of a plucky Universalist church in Mississippi. And Sonja Cohen rounds up a holiday break's worth of Unitarian Universalists in the media.

Posted by Philocrites, January 8, 2007, at 04:32 PM | 1 comments

Sunday, January 7, 2007

UUA Board meets in Boston January 19-21.

The trustees of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations hold their quarterly meeting in Boston January 19-21. Meetings of the board of trustees are open to the public. Their agenda and the reports of UUA departments, committees, and board working groups are posted to the UUA website.

Posted by Philocrites, January 7, 2007, at 03:39 PM | 3 comments

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Boston Globe blogs Deval Patrick's interfaith service.

Deval Patrick takes oath of officeUpdated: The Globe's religion reporter Michael Paulson is blogging the interfaith service at Boston's Old South Meeting House for Massachusetts Gov.-elect Deval Patrick's inauguration today. (Here's the permalink to the first post.)

Here's the Globe's complete coverage of the inauguration, with Patrick's inspiring inaugural speech and a bunch of photo slideshows. (My photos are at Flickr.) Paulson reports that Peter Gomes's sermon in the interfaith prayer service pointedly congratulated Patrick for his support of gay marriage. Meanwhile, at, Deb Weiner reports on UUA President Bill Sinkford's part in Patrick's interfaith service.

Posted by Philocrites, January 4, 2007, at 10:20 AM | 6 comments

Monday, January 1, 2007

This week at Stick your neck out.

John Graham says he used to find meaning in life "chasing adventure or status or power," but that got old after a few years. He describes how he changed course while working as a U.S. diplomat in apartheid-era South Africa. Working to end injustice and suffering has proven much more fulfilling, he found; sticking your neck out for the common good will bring lasting meaning to your life, too. Graham is the president of the Giraffe Heroes Project, which shares the inspiring stories of "giraffes" — people who stick their necks out.

In the news, Jane Greer profiles Beth Miller, the new director of the UUA's ministry and professional leadership staff group. The news blog was on vacation last week and will return with links to Unitarian Universalists in the media later this week.

Posted by Philocrites, January 1, 2007, at 11:13 AM | 0 comments

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